Inductive Reasoning Definition and Examples

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What's inductive reasoning, and why is it important in the workplace? Inductive reasoning is a type of logical thinking that involves forming generalizations based on specific incidents you've experienced, observations you've made, or facts you know to be true or false.

Inductive vs. Deductive Reasoning

Inductive reasoning is different from deductive reasoning, in which you start with a generalization or theory, and then test it by applying it to specific incidents. Inductive reasoning is an important critical thinking skill that many employers look for in their employees. That makes it a useful skill to highlight in your job applications and in your job interviews.

Inductive Reasoning in the Workplace

Inductive reasoning is an example of a soft skill. Unlike hard skills, which are specific to your job and generally involve acquired knowledge, soft skills relate to how you interact with people, social situations, and ideas.

Both types are essential for success in the workplace, but soft skills are arguably harder to teach and to learn. Because of that, many employers place a premium on hiring candidates who possess soft skills and can demonstrate them during the interview process.  

Employers value workers who can think logically as they solve problems and carry out tasks, and who can discern patterns and develop strategies, policies, or proposals based on those tendencies. These employees are practicing inductive reasoning.

Examples of Inductive Reasoning

In practice, inductive reasoning often appears invisible. You might not be aware that you’re taking in information, recognizing a potential pattern, and then acting on your hypothesis. But, if you’re a good problem solver, chances are that these examples will feel familiar:

1. A teacher notices that his students learned more when hands-on activities were incorporated into lessons, and then decides to regularly include a hands-on component in his future lessons.

2. An architect discerns a pattern of cost overages for plumbing materials in jobs and opts to increase the estimate for plumbing costs in subsequent proposals.

3. A stockbroker observes that Intuit stock increased in value four years in a row during tax season and recommends clients buy it in March.

4. A recruiter conducts a study of recent hires who have achieved success and stayed on with the organization. She finds that they graduated from three local colleges, so she decides to focus recruiting efforts on those schools.

5. A salesperson presents testimonials of current customers to suggest to prospective clients that her products are high quality and worth the purchase.

6. A defense attorney reviews the strategy employed by lawyers in similar cases and finds an approach that has consistently led to acquittals. She then applies this approach to her own case.

7. A production manager examines cases of injuries on the line and discerns that many injuries occurred towards the end of long shifts. The manager proposes moving from 10-hour to 8-hour shifts based on this observation.

8. A bartender becomes aware that customers give her higher tips when she shares personal information, so she intentionally starts to divulge personal information when it feels appropriate to do so.

9. An activities leader at an assisted living facility notices that residents light up when young people visit. She decides to develop a volunteer initiative with a local high school, connecting students with residents who need cheering up.

10. A market researcher designs a focus group to assess consumer responses to new packaging for a snack product. She discovers that participants repeatedly gravitate towards a label stating “15 grams of protein." The researcher recommends increasing the size and differentiating the color of that wording.

Highlight Inductive Reasoning Skills in Your Job Search

If the employer explicitly mentions inductive reasoning in the job listing, or if you know it is critical to the job, you might mention it in your job application materials. For example, you can provide an example of successfully using inductive reasoning in your cover letter, or you can include inductive reasoning in your resume summary or list of skills.

A question about your inductive reasoning skills might come up in a first or second interview. As a job candidate, you should review your past roles and identify situations in which you have applied inductive reasoning. Think of times when inductive reasoning resulted in positive outcomes, as this information can help convince employers that you can independently apply knowledge learned on the job and pick up the role quickly.

When highlighting your inductive reasoning during an interview, use the STAR interview response technique. This is an acronym that stands for:

  •    Situation
  •    Task
  •    Action
  •    Result

First, describe the situation (Where you were working? What project were you working on?). Then, describe the task (What was your responsibility? What problem did you have to solve? What observations did you make?). Next, explain the action you took (What solution did you implement? How did you translate your observations into a solution or action?).

Finally, explain the result (How did your action help the problem, or help the company more broadly?). This technique will clearly show the interviewer that you have inductive reasoning skills that can add value to a company.